International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
Dimitrios Katirtzis, Rescue Team Leader – Hellenic Red Cross
When a raft with 60-70 people strands on the steep and stony shores of Lesvos, it is always chaos.
I am Dimitrios Katirtzis, team leader for the Hellenic Red Cross life guard rescue team here at Lesvos north coast. My six member team will stay here for a week. Then we will go home and another team will arrive.
Our task is to assist refugees arriving from Turkey with these black and grey rafts you have seen in news. Those plastic rafts are much different from the real rubber rafts used by navy or coast guard and that is why there has been so many tragic accidents. Raft pontoons are made of quite light plastic, which can easily break at the sea and at the shore.
Refugees have to cross a five to ten kilometres channel between Turkey and Lesvos. It is not easy because of sometimes very strong wind and sea current. Rafts have weak outboard engines and motors can be old and rusty too. This means that boats can stop at the sea, they can drift where ever along this 60 kilometres Lesvos coast.
When a raft with 60-70 people strands on the steep and stony shores of Lesvos, it is always chaos. People jump to the sea, they try to get out from the boat as quickly as possible and often they forget that there is small babies and children on board too. I have seen several times how children in this chaos fall to water.
When people arrive, I can see fear on their faces. These people have terrible experiences and they need our help.
I am glad that here is now more volunteers than in summer or early autumn. Spanish rescue team has strong water jet scooters and they can help refugee boats both at the sea and when entering the shore.
This is not easy task, because there can sometimes be arriving more that 50 rafts per day. On this mission I am a volunteer, but normally I work with sea rescue duties too. Back home in Katerini, near Thessaloniki, I am the director and coordinator for the local Hellenic Red Cross rescue team and also the director for the Hellenic Red Cross life guard training school.
Ilias Meliadis, Volunteer – Hellenic Red Cross
This is real life and real suffering. I am thankful that I can help them.
I am Ilias Meliadis, a Hellenic Red Cross volunteer from Katerini and a member of the life guard rescue team. This is my first mission to help refugees and so this is for me the first Red Cross mission to the Greek’s Aegean Sea islands too.
It was quite moving for me when I saw first plastic rafts arriving to Lesvos. Grey boats full of people who all had orange life jackets. Some people were waving to us, some were crying, some praying. The stranding is always a chaos and I tried to take care of small children and babies, so that we got them safely out from the boat.
Weather is nowadays quite windy so almost all people are wet and cold. Some are suffering of hypothermia and they need special assistance. It is good that there is now so many volunteer from different parts of Europe.
In summer there were a lot of less rescue teams working here and my colleagues from Hellenic Red Cross were in some parts of the coast almost the only team to help. Sometimes it was very hard for them to take care of all those tens and tens of boats.
At home I am a video game designer, but I have to say that what I see here is something which is difficult to imagine. This is not a game for these people. It is real life and real suffering. I am thankful that I can be part of the team which is helping them.
Rescue boats and resting places – Tunisian Red Crescent Society
I consider myself the same as they are. We are all human beings.
Stefania Kopsacheili, Volunteer – Hellenic Red Cross
This refugee crisis situation is for all of us something which is difficult to describe.
My name is Stefania Kopsacheili. I have worked as a Hellenic Red Cross volunteer for eight years. Now I am a rescue team member and also a trainer for new volunteers.
This refugee crisis situation is for all of us something which is difficult to describe. I was here in Lesvos first time in September, when everything started.
I have never experienced anything like it. It was terrible. Boats were arriving. People were jumping from the boats before they were close enough to the coast.
They could not swim and I saw dead bodies floating at the sea.
That time there were only a few rescue teams in Lesvos and work was really hard.
After that I was a week in Idomeni, at the boarder of Greece and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. There situation was different, but still touching. I am especially thinking the children.
My family accepts my Red Cross role very well. I have three children who all are adults. They feel that all these people need help and are proud that mom is helping them. And my husband – he is also volunteering for the Red Cross. He has also worked for the Red Cross in Idomeni camp.